A few people are just plain wicked. Even fewer are genuine saints. The rest of us live in the vast middle space. It’s not permitted to such a one as I to judge the spiritual worth of other human beings, nor is it what I intend to play at in these paragraphs. But there comes a time when you have to make adjustments in the people whose essential skills you trust to make fair, stable, wide-angled estimates of worldly affairs. Glenn Beck is no longer on my list of such people.
I’ve tuned into Beck off and on for years. I liked many of his guests. Where else do you get to hear commentators as keen as Michelle Malkin and Ben Shapiro, or men as honest as Louie Gohmert and Burgess Owens? Yet I vividly recall being shaken by the treatment Debra Medina received on Beck’s radio show when she was challenging Rick Perry for governor of Texas. The year escapes me—perhaps 2008; but the interview ended when either Beck or his point man, Pat Gray, blindsided Medina with a question about one of her staffers being a “truther”. Like Medina, I had never heard a definition of this ragged, patched-up word. Struggling after clarity as her final seconds ticked away, Debra offered an entirely reasonable generalization to the effect that everything our government does at any level should be subject to public scrutiny. Her line of communication once severed, Beck and Co. went on the attack. They immediately began an indignant, derisive, and contemptuous assault upon all such people as dare to believe that George Bush and Dick Cheney would have planned the slaughter of 3,000 Americans on 9/11. Medina was now one of these… and her candidacy tanked irretrievably.
Personally, I have no doubt that we haven’t been told the full truth about the collapse of the World Trade Towers (and particularly about the accordion-plunge of the squat WTT 7). That doesn’t amount to my accusing the Bush Administration of mass murder—a supposition grotesque to the point of clinical paranoia. It means I want the full truth. Why do people like Debra Medina and me deserve to be designated “truthers” the way a playground bully might designate a child with asthma a “gasper”? Especially when Beck devotes so much of his airtime to ferreting out forgotten or suppressed historical details and constructs his professional persona so meticulously around honoring neglected artifacts, dancing around the new girl with his buddies at recess and chanting “truther” doesn’t suit the dignity of the desired image.
The “dignity deficit” has been a recurrent problem with me. Talk-show hosts, to be sure, enjoy a license to engage in buffoonery… but not so much a host who lays special claim to being a devout Christian and the one reliable adult in the room. Inappropriate are the endless permutations of the word “butt”, the eighth-grade flights of sarcasm, and the occasional too-intimate details of the host’s personal life. Even the musical overture (lately discarded) to the televised version of Beck’s show on The Blaze morphed from a tasteful collage of real-life sequences to a very odd comic strip featuring heads of major historical figures yapping out the lyrics like PAC Man eating up dots. Was the subliminal message here that Beck considers himself history’s puppeteer, able to pair any two politicians (and there were some bizarre pairings) and make them mouth his little ditty of togetherness?
Ah, yes… the “togetherness” thing. Beck the Preacher will alternately grow choked up in his appeals for unity and resonant in a prophetic lather as he scolds, “Wake up, America!” For a week or two, he wants to greet illegally entering children with teddy bears and soccer balls along our border; then it’s back to warning gullible stiffs like me that the economy can’t make it to Christmas. (I’m grateful for the warning, and I believe the economy may very well “accordion” like the Trade Towers: but you can’t stay on high alert for a decade running.) If we are at rest, we should snap to attention: if we have our finger on the trigger, we should chill out. We are to stop fighting with each other over such meaningless trivia as the propriety of the gay lifestyle and rising for the Anthem at NFL games… but those of us who feel uncomfortable with the ostentation of public prayer must nonetheless sit through the itemization of the host’s prayer life and even through a benediction concluding his nightly newsroom discussion-group. I pray, too—in my closet, as Jesus recommends. Perhaps these televised prayers, with Beck himself the hub around which the wheel spins, are supposed to make us bond… and since such unifying endeavors require a stage and an audience, the Good Shepherd can’t afford to be bashful.
Does Glenn, in his defense (if this could be a mitigation rather than an exacerbation), honestly believe himself to be a prophet touched by the One True God? His audio and video archives brim with oft-retrieved pronouncements he has made about the new millennium. Ever quick to remind the world that his prediction of a caliphate-seeking uprising in the Middle East was scoffed at by mainstream news media, he seems convinced that nobody else anywhere was sounding the alarm. At the same time, a convenient amnesia appears to settle over such forecasts as the one about Putin’s imminent takeover of Poland (imminent in… 2014). Personally, I have never sought—in Beck or anyone else—a prophet or a speaker-in-tongues: I seek someone who will tell the whole truth about events in the news (you know… a “truther”!) and perhaps provide some mature moral context to frightening trends. In this latter regard, where is the prophet, I wonder, when Beck marvels over the nanobot-ridden “transhuman” extolled by his friend Ray Kurzweil, then anguishes out loud over possible unfortunate consequences of the new robot-man? My own inner Jeremiah is lapping Beck’s every day on this track!
It’s almost as though that which we traditionalists have identified as clearly right or wrong needs to be reconsidered, in Beck’s eyes, as dividing the nation—and that which most of us would as soon allow to lapse into the background scenery needs to be center-staged. Why does a man who insists on praying over a panel discussing the day’s news express little interest in defending traditional marriage? Why were the details of Barack Obama’s thoroughly misty past not worth exploring, yet the world must stand up and take notice that a twenty-year-old line from the mouth or the pen of Newt Gingrich proves him to be a General Franco in waiting?
At these moments, Beck reminds me of the eponymous character in Gide’s Immoraliste (and our lion of historical research, I’ve no doubt, would mock me mercilessly for citing a Frenchman). Surrounded by wealthy, stuffy landowners who see poaching as a threat to the survival of civilization, the new arrival in their aristocratic midst blunders upon some malefactors one night and… and discovers that skulking around with them is one of life’s great pleasures. Glenn Beck seems to like to slip over to the other side just when you think he’s holding down your flank; and before you know it, he’s giving you a sermon on the evils of choosing sides. Tricky, that.